In our eighth blog for the 16 days, second year student Sophie Lloyd looks into the feedback given by IRIS service users and the effect that studying them has had on her personally.
I am a second-year medical student at the University of Bristol who recently completed a research project about women’s experiences of IRIS. I chose the placement as part of my ‘Student Choice’, which is an opportunity to explore a field of medicine that interested me in further depth.
My research project involved analysing quotations from a feedback form complied as part of routine data collection by IRISi in order to determine the main themes in women’s experiences of the service.
There were over 160 comments included in the analysis, and each had to be read carefully before being manually coded. This involved identifying recurring words and topics in order to group similar codes together under subthemes and themes. Reading and subsequently coding such emotional quotes about the impacts of IRIS was a very powerful, moving experience. So many women had benefitted from the support they received from their advocate-educator and were making positive changes in their lives as a result.
Although my research paper focussed on women’s experiences of IRIS, I also learnt a lot about impacts of domestic violence and abuse, particularly on mental health and wellbeing.
My analysis identified the following four main themes in service users’ experiences of IRIS:
- Women felt supported by IRIS service
- Women felt empowered as a result of IRIS
- Women had improved mental and/or physical health as a result of IRIS
- Women felt that they and their children were safer as a result of IRIS
Many women expressed their thanks or gratitude for the support they received, and specifically mentioned their IRIS advocate-educator in the comments. It was clear that having a good relationship with available support helped women to feel more confident, and also increased access to services such as support groups and refuges.
The changes that women described as a result of IRIS taught me a lot about the reality of how domestic violence and abuse affects women’s lives. In particular, women reported feeling more confident as a result of IRIS advocacy, which really highlighted the isolation and low self-esteem which many women feel as a result of domestic abuse.
Many victims of domestic violence feel that they and their children (if relevant) are unsafe or directly in danger because of the perpetrator. This was addressed in numerous comments, with women stating they felt safer following support. For example, IRIS advocate-educators were able to help women to get improved security in their homes or move to a different location such as a refuge.
Empowering victims of domestic abuse is an important role for advocate-educators and the theme of empowerment was discussed in various quotations from service users. An example of this included education, such as teaching women to recognise different forms of abuse, as well as aiding in learning through referral to courses or therapy. Another example was women describing newfound assertiveness and confidence, particularly associated with a sense of optimism for the future.
Being affected by domestic violence and abuse is undoubtedly a highly stressful, potentially traumatic experience which can have major effects on both mental and physical health. Women described their improved mood and positivity following interaction with the IRIS service, which is undoubtedly a success of the programme.
Reading the comments provided by women about their experience of the IRIS service was very thought provoking and I had to take breaks from the analysis to process and appreciate the stories behind the comments. It was often difficult to view the data objectively when the content was so emotional, and I managed this by speaking to representatives at IRISi and writing notes of my experiences to include in a reflection at the end of my report.
I certainly found it upsetting to learn about how many women are affected by domestic violence and abuse, as well as the lack of appropriate response to this in many healthcare settings. I feel that after completing this project I have a greater awareness of the importance of doctors and other healthcare professionals in improving outcomes for victims of domestic violence and abuse. I hope that this will positively influence my future practise throughout my medical training and beyond.
I was awed by the bravery and strength of the women behind the quotations, and despite the quotations being anonymised for use in my research project, I felt that I was interacting with the comments on a very personal level. I am incredibly grateful to IRISi for the opportunity to complete this project, and also to the women who provided information about their experiences.
Sophie Lloyd is a second-year medical student at the University of Bristol.